A MOST VIOLENT YEAR (2014)
Written and directed by J.C. Chandor
Set in 1980’s New York, Abel Morales runs a growing oil business with plans to expand with the purchase of a new property by the river. With 30 days to seal the property deal with the seller, Morales must get together the necessary funds to complete the sale but with his trucks being hijacked at every turn and hitmen turning up at his door, Morales’ fight for his business will be an uphill struggle. Making matters worse, the District Attorney’s office is keeping a close eye on the company, convinced that they’re not doing things by the book and looking to dig up any dirt on the company they can find.
1981, and the years leading up to it, was a hard time for New York City. Crime was hitting its peak with drugs and gangs ruling the streets and police corruption rife. Nobody gave a damn if you were mugged on the street and if you wanted justice, you’d have to find it yourself. JC Chandor’s drama of one man’s dedication to making his business prosper in a time of violence is both gripping and shocking to watch as we see the difficulties and challeges that are laid out in front of him.
A MOST VIOLENT YEAR highlights how everyone is affected by a city fuelled by crime. At first, it’s just Morales’ profits being targeted but as the situation grows increasingly worse throughout the city, it quickly become his life and that of his wife Anna (Jessica Morales) and their children that is on the line. Even the staff that make up Morales’ company find themselves at risk with the drivers and salesman on the receiving end of beatings. The supervisor over the drivers is keen to arm the workers in case of future hijackings, to demonstrate that their vehicles cannot be taken without a fight, but Morales is adament that by possessing a firearm will only force the thieves to retaliate with heavier force. When there’s a DA’s office who has no interest in helping to stop these crimes committed in the city, what’s a man to do?
Oscar Isaac is phenomenal as the dedicated oil tycoon Abel Morales. His passion to rise to success the right way, by working hard and playing by the rules, is very admirable, and his overall outlook on life is positive, even in the face of trouble. His concern for the well-being of his staff, who are face-to-face with threats each and every day, makes him a very likable character. He states that the only thing he’s afraid of is failure and it shows as his determination is unwavering. His cool-as-ice, relaxed demeanor is a stark contrast to the characters in other films who yearn to be a success.
The tone of A MOST VIOLENT YEAR reminds me of The Godfather and Goodfellas films, with a not-so-subtle threat shadowing the movie throughout. It’s by no means as violent as those films, but the murky criminal behaviour, corruption and lack of hope is all too present with even Morales starting to show the strain even though he’s doing everything in his power to fight the good cause.
A thoroughly enjoyable drama, A MOST VIOLENT YEAR is a solid entry from JC Chandor which continues his business theme after his financial crisis movie Margin Call, which I reviewed a few years ago. Whilst A MOST VIOLENT YEAR may not be as gritty and violent as one may hope, the film feels like a realistic reflection of life and business during 1981.